Prexy's goal is to protect member's property, provide interactive Web site

HOLLYWOOD — For newly appointed AFMA executive director Jean Prewitt, new technologies are both a concern and a boon to members of the indie film org.

One of her top priorities for the coming year is to investigate how to protect members’ intellectual property with the possible advent of online and broadband distribution. The other focus is AFMA’s new Web site, which will provide an unprecedented array of information to members spread out across four continents. “We’re encouraging a lot of interactivity,” says Prewitt.

The revamped site will bring all the member-only services online, such as standard form contracts and AFMA territory fact books. The site also will feature services designed to let association members, 40% of whom are based outside the U.S., to communicate with each other more effectively.

“There’s been a skew in the way we deliver services,” she admits, “For example, the board meetings are always in L.A. But this allows us to reach out to the international membership.”

The password-protected content also will include contractual and licensing advice and international box office reports. An interactive feature specially tailored to the needs of international buyers will allow users to search for a film title and then compare its performance in 18 territories.

Bringing in experience

“Once you’ve put yourself in a position where you can push out timely information, you start to become much more important to your membership,” says Prewitt, who will be attending her first American Film Market after being appointed in March. She brings an almost tailor-made set of qualifications to the exec director post, having served as a lobbyist and with the Dept. of Commerce in Washington and as a London-based attorney for global distrib UIP Pictures prior to that.

In Washington, one of her projects was working with Vice President Al Gore to develop the Global Information Infrastructure initiative, the first formal U.S. effort to promote global acceptance of the Internet.

Prewitt says she plans to draw upon her Washington experience to bolster the org’s lobbying efforts. “We need to take a much more active role in government relations areas. We did not have a Washington presence, but having come out of Washington, I realized that was not the best way. You want them to know that you’re there.”

AFMA is also active in trying to protect copyright and intellectual property issues worldwide. The copyright and film security committee is looking at digital rights management systems that can be linked to payment systems for eventual pay-per-view distribution.

“We’re looking at whether or not there are currently adequate security mechanisms to allow traditional distribution to take place, on a producer- or distributor-controlled basis, and which technologies really are available at present,” she says. “Is there a way to use a new distribution system which allows you to get your film financed?”

Also looking at Internet-related issues is the new technology opportunities committee, chaired by Troma topper Lloyd Kaufman, which is exploring potential commercial services that members and the association could offer via broadband.

Updating the market

Fighting piracy is also a focus of protecting intellectual property, and AFMA works through industry coalitions such as the International Intellectual Property Alliance and other groups to ensure that adequate copyright laws are enacted worldwide. Working at the copyright level, according to Prewitt, seems to pay off more than ground-level actions such as raiding duplicating plants (However, AFMA has participated in several Asian coalitions mounted to combat DVD piracy.)

Prewitt also is concerned with bringing the American Film Market into the 21st century, and has been instrumental in spearheading the AFM Honors program launching at this year’s market.

“We decided it was important to start honoring what we think of as independent filmmaking, in which producers take a significant financial risk to make the picture. There’s an extraordinary body of talent in those type of pictures, and we decided to start rewarding it.”

The honors are part of a plan to expand the scope of the market with complementary activities including an expanded seminar schedule, with various guilds and organizations organizing additional panels.

“We’re also reaching out to the producers themselves, not just to the sales companies, to come meet people. We’re trying to expand the appeal of the market,” she says

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